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Six Stormont parties send joint letter to Boris Johnson opposing double jobbing plan


Stormont buildings

Stormont buildings

Stormont buildings

Six parties at Stormont have collectively written an open letter to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson opposing plans to reintroduce dual mandates for Northern Ireland politicians.

The letter is signed by Alliance leader Naomi Long, Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey, UUP leader Doug Beattie, People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

The Government is seeking to amend legislation currently going through parliament to allow MPs to return to the Assembly without the need to immediately vacate their Westminster seat and trigger a by-election.

Under the proposal being tabled in the Lords, MPs could be elected MLAs and remain as Members of Parliament until the next general election. Only at that point would they have to vacate their parliamentary seat.

The practice of double jobbing — also known as a dual mandate — was banned in Northern Ireland back in 2016 following the MPs expenses scandal.

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A row erupted at the weekend when some parties said the move would benefit the DUP, as party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson previously said he would give up his Westminster seat to run on an Assembly ticket.

If he was elected to the Assembly, under the current rules he would have to stand down as an MP and this would trigger a by-election in his Lagan Valley constituency.

However, if double jobbing is once again permitted, he could run for an Assembly seat safe in the knowledge his spot at Westminster is secure.

In the joint letter by the parties they wrote: "As leaders of a wide spectrum of Northern Ireland political parties, we are writing to stress our firm opposition to your Government's amendment in the House of Lords on the reintroduction of dual mandates/double-jobbing, including on a time-limited basis.

"The roles of MP and MLA are full time roles, and it is not possible for someone to simultaneously do full justice to both. There has been a broad consensus across the political spectrum for several years against this practice, and we had regarded this matter as settled and closed with the legal prohibition in the NI (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014.

"There has been no consultation with the Northern Ireland parties regarding this measure and it has been brought forward just months away from an Assembly election, which cannot be seen as impartial benefitting as it does only one party.

"It has also departed from the stated position of the Northern Ireland Office that such amendments would only be considered where 'sufficient consensus' exists: in fact, all parties with the exception of the DUP are firmly opposed to any return to double jobbing.

"Furthermore, we have significant concerns that the implications of this amendment could fuel political instability, in direct contradiction of the stated purpose of the Bill.

"We strongly urge your Government to withdraw this amendment."

At the weekend, the DUP hit back at rival parties, accusing them of “faking outrage” and “throwing dust into the air”.

Speaking on Monday, Sir Jeffrey said no deal has been done between his party and the UK Government regarding dual mandates. He also said not all of his party’s MPs will be running in the upcoming Assembly elections, although he refused to name one other MP who is understood to be considering it.

“This issue was first raised by the Labour Party before I became leader of the DUP. We then had, before Christmas, a debate in the House of Lords on this issue; again, not something that was initiated by the DUP,” he said.

“And there was no opposition at that stage to what was being put forward. So I take with a pinch of salt some of the outrage we’re now seeing manifested by some of the political parties.

“I’m talking about dual mandates, because, in the end, as I declared when I was elected leader, I made clear I wanted to contest the Assembly elections.

“In the autumn I put my name forward for selection within the party; that process is ongoing. But if I’m selected, then I will put myself before the people in Lagan Valley. Ultimately, they will decide whether they want their MP to also be an MLA and that is called democracy.”

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